A planned 198-unit apartment complex, near the site of the proposed Walmart in Bel Air South, got a boost earlier this month when the county's zoning hearing examiner approved an adjustment of the zoning for the property.
The ruling was a crucial victory for the developers, Peak Management LLC, of Timonium, because it allows them to build to their desired density.
In response, the People's Counsel for Harford County filed an appeal earlier this month to the decision by Robert Kahoe Jr. and submitted a letter on May 3 seeking a "final argument" before the county's Board of Appeals regarding the complex proposed on land owned by the Evergreen Business Trust.
The 17.54-acre forested site in question is on the west side of Route 24 and the south side of Plumtree Road. Plans call for building the final segment of Tollgate Road, which would serve as a western boundary.
The Evergreen project is one of three large apartment complex developments being proposed in the greater Bel Air area that are going through various stages of the county's approval process. Together, the three could add more than 700 rental units to the market over the next several years.
The final argument on the Evergreen case, which will be conducted by the Harford County Council, will take place at 7 p.m. on June 18 in the council's chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air, according to a notice issued by council staff Tuesday.
There has been considerable public concern, expressed at earlier hearings in the case, that the proposed development will have adverse impacts on property values in the surrounding neighborhoods, even though an existing apartment development, Calvert's Walk, is only a short distance away from the Evergreen site.
Members of the Harford County Council, who sit as the Board of Appeals, have the final authority to approve large planned residential developments in Harford County. They could adopt, reject or modify the hearing examiner's decision.
The council/board's decision can be appealed in the court system.
The Evergreen/Peak property is zoned with three residential densities – R1, R4 and "a slim sliver" of R3, according to Kahoe's decision, issued April 11.
"The Applicant originally requested that this R3 sliver, being about 0.33 acres in size, be changed to R4, arguing that the district line is improperly drawn and R4 should follow the eastern boundary of Tollgate Road," Kahoe wrote.
Peak Management later requested the county move the R4 boundary to the middle of Tollgate, instead of the eastern side of the road, to allow for a greater density of units.
Attorney Robert Lynch of Bel Air, who represented Peak Management during three nights of testimony before Kahoe in February, said the current zoning would only allow the developer to build 197 full units, and a fraction of another unit.
Changing the zoning would allow the developer to build the desired 198 units.
The southern segment of Tollgate runs from Route 24, near the Constant Friendship Shopping Center, north to the Bel Air South Professional Center. The northern segment of Tollgate runs from Plumtree to the Fallston area.
The segment in between is undeveloped – Lynch noted completing that final section has been part of Harford County's master plan for 30 years.
"Quite apparently, the zoning maps were drawn when the exact lines of Tollgate Road had not yet been fixed or, if fixed, the maps were in error," Kahoe wrote. "The Applicant asks that this error in drafting be remedied."
Kahoe stated "the real question" involves determining where the "location of the dividing line between the zoning districts" should be established.
The examiner cited Section 267-17 of the Harford County Code: "Interpretation of Boundaries."
Subsection B states: "Boundaries shown as following or approximately following streets shall be construed to follow the center lines of such streets."
Kahoe went on to rule in favor of placing the zoning boundary along the center of Tollgate.
"It is hereby found that the zoning maps showing the subject property are hereby ordered to be adjusted so that the R3 and R4 zoning districts are divided along the center line of Tollgate Road," he wrote.
Traffic, noise, other issues
People's Counsel Brian Young represented neighbors of the Evergreen property, who were concerned about the impacts of increased traffic, environmental degradation, noise and light pollution and deleterious impacts.
County planning officials also testified in February against granting approval to the development, citing concerns about environmental and traffic impacts.
"It's not a conventional development, and so there are specific guidelines above and beyond the general zoning code," Anthony McClune, deputy director of Planning and Zoning, testified during the hearings.
The request for an adjustment of the zoning boundaries is one of two cases argued before Kahoe in February regarding the Evergreen property. Peak Management is also seeking a special zoning exception from the county to build the 198 units.
Dottie Smith, zoning hearing assistant, said a decision has not yet been issued in the special exception case.
Smith said the applicant would still need the special exception, even with Kahoe's decision on the boundary, because "code approval" is required to proceed.
Regardless how Kahoe rules in the special exception case, his decision is subject to the same council/board of appeals review and approval process.